YOSHITERU OTANI SENSEI (大谷 芳照 先生) 1929 – 2004

written by Stanley Chin (Interview and collaboration with Phil Ortiz.)

Yoshiteru Otani Sensei was born on November 17, 1929, in Osaka, Japan, and passed away on June 29, 2004 at 75 years old.

He came from a Samurai family lineage. At age 6, his father began training him in the martial arts. Kumao Ohno Sensei trained him from age 15, and at 20 he studied Iaido with Tadatsugu Shimizu Sensei, 9th dan Iaido, 9th dan Kendo and 9th dan Jujitsu. Other training was acquired with Takeshi Mitsuzuka Sensei. He became the All-Japan Sumo Wrestling champion in his age group at 31. By the age of 45 Otani Sensei had an 8th dan in Iaido, 7th dan in Kendo, and 6th dan in Judo.

Otani Sensei received a Bachelor’s degree in Law from Kwansei University in Japan, and because of his love of writing, he had ambitions of someday becoming a journalist. Otani Sensei was a close friend of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi Soke and the author Yukio Mishima. He knew Ueshiba Morihei Sensei and Donn  Draeger. In Japan, he served as the Secretary to the Speaker of the House. He later resigned this post and founded one of Japan’s largest camera equipment firms. Otani Sensei studied Zen philosophy and  Samurai history and taught this along with Iaido. He gave many lectures to massive audiences. He was also an advocate of bringing quality higher education to Japan.

Otani Sensei came to America in 1954 to help promote sales for his company. While here, he taught Judo at the McBurney YMCA in New York City. He also served as Director of the AAU Judo Championship Committee.

In 1972 he founded The Japan Cultural Center, with 3 floors devoted to different martial arts. It became the largest martial arts school in America. Otani Sensei taught Iaido, Kendo, and Jodo. He founded his own dojo, New York Iaikai, in the 1970’s. Otani Sensei created “kumadachi” katas (partner forms using bokkens) based on Ono-ha Itto Ryu and other schools. These forms are practiced exclusively at New York Budokai.

From 1974 to 1986, Otani Sensei was featured in and wrote articles for many martial arts publications,  including Black Belt magazine. He was also featured in a 1993 book; “The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition, History, Pioneers” by John Corcoran. In the 1970’s Otani Sensei was featured on the television talk show, “The Mike Douglas Show”. One of his demonstrations was in cutting a watermelon in half with a one-handed “Do-Giri” (horizontal) cut. Otani Sensei was a true pioneer and leader. He was the first to teach Iaido and Kendo on the East Coast.

He taught Zen philosophy, Samurai spirit, and history to his students and the world. He believed that the practice of Iaido would increase your concentration due to the intense focus necessary to draw, cut, and return, a live blade to the scabbard with lightning speed. He also believed this would develop your character and spirit so you would have the courage to pursue your ambitions. But most importantly, he believed it is about helping others find their path. Otani Sensei inspired his students to the end to strive to be their very best, to do their best Iaido, and to always seek excellence, and his spirit endures.